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Maine CDC redefines probable COVID-19 case investigations as flu season arrives

With COVID-19 surging at the same time as flu season, the Maine CDC will only investigate coronavirus infections based on a positive lab test.
Credit: NCM

AUGUSTA, Maine — With COVID-19 surging at the same time as flu season, the Maine Center for Disease Control (CDC) will only investigate coronavirus infections based on a positive lab test.

Contact tracers will no longer investigate people who had close contact with someone who's infected, even if they're showing symptoms, unless there's a positive test, the Maine CDC said.

The change is because of the arrival of influenza, which has symptoms resembling COVID-19, Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said.

The "adjustment ensures that all available COVID-19 response resources can be focused on lab-positive cases,” he said Wednesday.

The Maine CDC says individuals who may have been exposed and are experiencing symptoms should seek testing. And while awaiting test results, people with symptoms should stay home and avoid all public interaction. Anyone who believes they have been exposed to the virus should immediately begin quarantining.

People who receive positive results through antigen testing will continue to be considered probable cases, and Maine CDC will investigate those cases. Over 20 states do not report any probable cases, including New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and New York.

“This change will likely result in fewer reported probable cases each day, but this is not an indication that the risk has lessened,” Shah said.

Dr. Dora Anne Mills, the chief health improvement officer for MaineHealth, said the change in policy makes sense.

"The state has recognized that they have staffing limitations. You need to spend those resources where they can be most effective, on positive cases," she told the Portland Press Herald.

With so many cases, it was already becoming difficult to investigate every person who may have had close contact with those who are infected. The Maine CDC recently redeployed more staff to work on case investigations and contact tracing, and they say more are being trained and hired for investigation and tracing positions. Approximately 20 Maine National Guard members are in the process of joining the case investigation and contact tracing teams.

Currently, more than 130 people are involved in COVID-19 case investigations and contact tracing, and the Maine CDC says that number will increase each week as additional staff complete training.

Maine CDC continues to use the Sara Alert system for ongoing contact tracing. As of November 12, a total of 17,854 close contacts had been enrolled.

RELATED: The life of a Maine CDC contact tracer: a critical job in stopping the spread of COVID-19

“We expect this volume of cases to continue, and these changes reflect epidemiological best practices for response to widespread community transmission,” Shah said. “The risk of exposure throughout the state remains high, so it’s important that Maine people wear face coverings in public, stay at least 6 feet apart, avoid non-essential gatherings, and get a flu shot.”

For information on COVID-19 testing options, visit the Keep Maine Healthy website.

Flu vaccine for the 2020-2021 season is now widely available. Vaccination is recommended for all people older than six months. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for it to take full effect. To find a flu clinic, search your ZIP code on flushot.healthmap.org or cdc.gov/flu or search the listings on 211maine.org.